Vernon Jordan, a civil rights leader and close adviser to powerful politicians, passed away on Monday in his Washington home. He was 85 years old.
The New York Times reports that his daughter, Vickee Jordan confirmed his death in a statement. A cause of death isn’t yet known.
Vernon was born on August 15, 1935 in Atlanta, growing up there during the time of segregation. After graduating from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957 and later, Howard University School of Law, Jordan began his career in civil rights with a segregation lawsuit against University of Georgia’s integration policy in 1961. He soon left private law practice, working as a field director for the NAACP and as a director of the Southern Regional Council for the Voter Education Project.
Jordan later became the president of the National Urban League in 1971 while he was still in his 30s. During his tenure, he began connecting with and advising top-level political figures, becoming close to Bill Clinton before he became president in 1992. Jordan advised Clinton during his presidential campaign and served as part of Clinton’s transition team from 1992 to 1993. Jordan also later endorsed both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
“Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan. An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism. His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people.”
Jordan remained the president of the Urban League until 1981 when he returned to his law practice. While he was close with Democratic Presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, Jordan also worked with Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.